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8/20/2003

Pharmacy Schools Embrace White Coat Ceremonies

Kate Traynor

A number of pharmacy schools across the nation are holding white laboratory coat ceremonies to symbolize to students their role as health care practitioners.

Krysten Modrzejewski, Pharm.D., ASHP's current George P. Provost Editorial Intern and a 2002 graduate of the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy, said she participated in a white coat ceremony at the start of her pharmacy education.

Modrzejewski recalled that the event made her view the pharmacy profession more seriously than before and fostered a sense of community with her fellow students. "I still have that lab coat," she noted.

"The white coat is symbolic of our absolute duty to provide the highest level of pharmacy services," said Ted Tong, Pharm.D., associate dean of the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy. "It really reinforces the notion that professionalism is something that we live by."

Why Wear White?

A commentary in the June 9 Archives of Internal Medicine states that the white coat ceremony originated in 1993 at the Arnold P. Gold Foundation of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York as a way to remind physicians of their "Hippocratic responsibilities."

In studies cited by the commentator, a white laboratory coat and name tag were found to be the items of physicians' attire that patients most strongly associated with professionalism. Overall, however, the commentator concluded that a "neat, clean appearance" among physicians is more important to patients than the presence of any particular item of attire.

Unlike many pharmacy schools, which provide laboratory coats to first-year students, Arizona holds the ceremony after students' third year of study.

Tong said that about 50 students received their coats this year in front of an audience of some 300 friends, faculty, and family members.

First-year students, Tong said, receive the pharmacy school's pin and recite the Pledge of Professionalism as part of an orientation procedure. He said that the administration had considered holding the white coat ceremony for new students as well but decided that they may not fully appreciate the idea of the white coat symbolizing patient care.

"The third-year [ceremony] fits very well with our program," Tong said. "It's quite a positive way to launch the third year into the fourth year," because the students "don't get together officially as a group until commencement," a year later.

Tong described the annual white coat ceremony, which first took place in 2001, as "very upbeat" in tone. "I think we've got a nice balance. It is light enough and not so solemn, but it's serious, too."

The University of Georgia College of Pharmacy likewise held its first white coat ceremony three years ago but incorporated the event into new-student orientation activities.

"The reason we started it," said George Francisco, Pharm.D., associate dean of the pharmacy school, was that "we wanted our students, from day one, to know that even though they are students, they are health care professionals."

During the ceremony, Francisco said, each student is called forward to the stage. A member of the alumni association puts the coat on the student and gives the student a college of pharmacy patch, and then the student shakes hands with "about 10 people" before exiting the stage.

At the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, the white coat ceremony takes place during student orientation as part of an awards ceremony that involves current and new students, parents, faculty, and staff members. Kimberly Mantelli, coordinator of recruitment and admissions, said that the coating ceremony follows the presentation of "alumni association recognitions, preceptor of the year awards, academic awards to each class, and leadership and service awards to each class."

"The end of the awards is when they coat the new class and do the Pledge of Professionalism," Mantelli said. A reception for the students follows.

Francisco said that the University of Georgia's first white coat ceremony for pharmacy students took place without an outside audience but has grown since then.

"Two years ago, somebody brought their parents just for that segment of the orientation," Francisco said. "Last year, we probably had about 50 people there....We have not invited anybody or done anything other than just have the ceremony, but I guess word has gotten out, and a lot of parents come now."

Third-year students, Francisco said, take part in a similar ceremony.

"We have a pinning ceremony for them," Francisco said. "We present them with a college of pharmacy pin that they can wear on their lab coat. And that marks the end of classes and the beginning of their training as a student pharmacist."

Although her white coat ceremony took place several years ago, Modrzejewski said she still maintains a connection to the professor who gave her the lab coat. "We are still good friends today, and she continues to be a mentor to me," Modrzejewski said.